Gifting and giving

Gifting and giving

In late September, I attended a lunch at a friend’s place in Gurgaon and spent what seemed like the whole afternoon listening to multiple people moan about the Commonwealth Games and how these were responsible for driving away their maids, drivers, carpenters and car-wash boys. The slums and bastis in Gurgaon were being emptied by the truckloads daily as the government decided it would, for security reasons, “verify" the swathes of people who make our lives easier.

A basti near my house was razed two years ago and I heard the same complaints then as well. But the point is, how often do we really think about the personal lives of our domestic staff? How do they survive in their makeshift houses, some of which are no more than pavement dwellings on roads? Do the police or the local authorities harass them on a regular basis? How do they cope with the lack of drainage facilities, or the absence of clean toilets? Can their children go to school and dream about making a life outside their cramped bastis or slums one day? It was questions such as these that bothered the Lounge team this Diwali and we decided to learn more about the urban poor. Read their stories and perhaps, like some of the people and organizations featured here, you too will be inclined to make their lives a little better.

And since no Diwali issue is complete without goodies for everyone, we have put together a few gifting ideas to match every budget. Enjoy.

— Seema Chowdhry, Issue editor

Download here Dominique Lapierre, the author of several compelling and best-selling books talks to us about his forthcoming trip, his ongoing charities and his frustrations with tight-fisted Indian millionaires


A matter of choice

The perfect Diwali gift, for a close family member, a childhood friend or a friendly colleague, can be elusive. Like every year, we went shopping to help you choose. The other big festival challenge we haven’t given up on is charity. This year, we met people who belong to the ubiquitous ‘urban poor’, slum dwellers we encounter every day but don’t know how to help. Eighteen NGOs, working with people on the fringes of our cities, gave us their wishlists. Take your pick—gift, give. (See more...)

Recycling and respect

Few neighbourhoods in Mumbai have attracted global attention the way Dharavi has. But all the intense, often glamorized focus on the area can misrepresent it. It is justly described as a hub of enterprise, evidence that even the most disadvantaged of urban populations can thrive in spite of adversity. (Read more...)

Wheels of change

Three months ago, Mala Sureshkumar became one of the 30 women plying an autorickshaw on Chennai’s streets. It’s a feat that this 26-year-old petite mother of two could hardly have dreamt of undertaking five years ago when she was married off by her mother and consigned to the role of a homemaker. (Read more...)

Beautiful minds

The sprawling slum lies in the shadow of sooty, old world factories—many of them shut for years now. This is Shama Parveen’s home in Ward No. 4 of the Kamarhati municipality, in the northern fringes of Kolkata. The newly elected Trinamool Congress councillor informs us as we walk around in her constituency that almost 20% of her electorate suffers from some sort of psychological distress: According to a study conducted by the Anjali Mental Health and Human Rights Organization, a significant section suffers from high levels of stress and anxiety, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse; some of them need medical intervention. (Read more...)

Building blocks

Parvathi, 35, is a construction worker who lives in a hut in the Netaji Nagar slum, Mathikere, in Bangalore. She shares the hut with her four daughters (aged between 4 and 7), her husband and elder brother (both construction labourers). Her father and mother did the same work, as did her husband’s parents. But Parvathi, who is illiterate, is determined to break this chain. (Read more...)

On a grand mission

Saraswati’s lips never stop moving. When she is not smiling or talking animatedly, the nearly 70-year-old keeps chanting a “guru mantra". It’s impossible to ignore the soft hum of her voice or the large U-shaped tika on her forehead that gives her the look of a priestess of some sort. (Read more...)

Paving their way

O.P. Solaiyamma, 45, lives in a shack on Barracks Road in the densely clustered business district of north Chennai, an area known as the city’s backyard. The narrow lane, which lies behind a row of tall colonial barracks now converted into a railway workshop, connects the busy wholesale market on Mint Street to Broadway, the entry point to north Chennai. Blame it on one-way streets and congested roads, but Barracks Road happens to be the easiest route for sedans and SUVs to commute between these areas. (Read more...)

Taking the message home

Pushpa, 32, greets her neighbours cheerfully as she leads us to her single-room dwelling in the Ragigudda tin slum built on a public playground in Bangalore’s upscale JP Nagar area. Ragigudda is one of the 10 slum clusters that Stree Jagruti Samiti (SJS) works in. (Read more...)

The tin school

The construction site on the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering and Technology (Cipet) campus in Guindy Industrial Estate in Chennai is slushy. Yet this is perhaps the best place that Appar Swamy, 28, and Kala Vathy, 23, a migrant couple from Parvathypuram in Andhra Pradesh have worked in since they moved to Chennai two and a half years back. “We have so far worked only in Oragadam, plenty of construction going on there," Appar Swamy tells me in broken Tamil. (Read more...)

Encounters in the open

Exactly 15 years ago, Ashok Row Kavi’s The Humsafar Trust tasted its first success. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation allotted two floors of a dilapidated municipal building to this new advocacy organization. (Read more...)

A slum’s metamorphosis

At the Kanak Durga slum colony in RK Puram, New Delhi, the lanes are named after the women. It is in “Rajkumari ki gali" that we meet 48-year-old Rajkumari Thakur. Leaning against a Pulsar motorbike that her eldest son, Prabhakar, has just bought, she tells us about the genesis of this oddball nomenclature. (Read more...)

A stitch in time

Indira Camp in Dilshad Garden’s Jhilmil Industrial Area in Delhi, where Shahid Hasan lived with his wife Hasina and their children, lay in the way of a planned Metro line. So four years ago the family was relocated to a 12.5x10ft plot of land on the Savda Ghevra resettlement colony in the rural north-western fringes of the city. (Read more...)

The invisible Delhiites

Every evening, the residents of Delhi’s Shaheed Arjun Das Camp drape plastic sheets over the remains of their walls so they can sleep with a semblance of a roof over their heads. (Read more...)

Art as lifeline

It’s one of those stories that make a case for poetic justice. The Salaam Baalak Trust—an organization founded by the proceeds of Mira Nair’s 1988 film on street children, Salaam Bombay—gives rise to a whole generation of photographers, musicians, dancers, thespians and puppeteers. (Read more...)

Scripting new stories of growth

Music Basti is a music education and awareness project that began in 2008 with the support of the Integrated Development Education Association (IDEA). The programme is geared for “at risk" children, which includes street children, runaways and orphans, and currently works with over 300 such children across three shelters in Delhi. The process is facilitated through a sustained programme of workshops—150 have been conducted so far—imparting basic music education to children. (Read more...)

Field of dreams

The slums and informal settlements of India’s cities are often hubs of economic activity. In these high-risk, stressful environments, the idea of sports and recreation for a vulnerable population of children from marginalized areas can seem a little whimsical. Why would anyone get them to play in the time they could be taking more classes or getting vocational training? The most direct answer is: Children have the right to play. (Read more...)